Give your compliance training programme a leading edge

June 3, 2014

In its Guidelines for Federal Prosecution of Corporations, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) states that when prosecutors are evaluating whether to file a charge against a company for a potential compliance failure they should determine whether the company’s compliance programme is merely a “paper programme”, or whether it was designed and implemented in an effective manner. To make this determination, the prosecutors should consider whether employees are “adequately informed about the compliance programme and are convinced of the corporation’s commitment to it”. The DOJ’s emphasis that liability for compliance failures can hinge on how effectively the corporation has trained its employees to handle compliance issues means that companies must take great measures to institute a proper compliance training programme. Too often, however, corporations assume that this necessity is met by merely having a compliance programme, rather than focusing on creating an effective programme that trains its employees and readies them to face compliance risks.

Corporate compliance training programmes suffer from a variety of inadequacies, not least of which is that e-learning modules used to train employees are rigid and overformal, not specifically tailored to business units within a company, and not interactive. This creates a situation where employees participate in training only because it is required, but gain little from their education as they are not interested in the training at all, and in turn are unable to effectively deal with any compliance risks they encounter in their work. Third-party vendors who provide e-learning tools to help a company supplement corporate training programmes often offer the same rigid, impractical e-learning solutions which companies develop internally. This causes businesses to grudgingly buy or produce boring and ineffective e-learning products for the mere purpose of meeting federal guidelines that require the implementation of a robust training programme.

This article will examine in detail why current e-learning modules are an ineffective part of modern compliance training programmes, and how companies must turn their attention towards pragmatic e-learning solutions that are well designed, customised to their business type, and practical and relevant to specific business units.


The three goals of any compliance training programme and the e-learning solutions that support it are:

  1. Make the learner aware of changes in regulations
  2. Help the learner understand the consequences of not adhering to the programme
  3. Ensure that the learner remembers the key principles and therefore knows how to act in transactions that could present risk.

These goals may seem simple and straightforward, but are often not achieved for three reasons.

Problem 1: Unengaging information

Instead of containing material which encourages employees to meet the above goals, e-learning solutions often only convey rigid language from the company’s code of conduct or internal compliance policies, with the expectation that employees will absorb such information with ease. Methods such as producing PowerPoint slides containing sections of company code are not engaging to employees as they convey compliance principles in a vacuum and do not demonstrate the specific situations where each principle must be applied. As a result, the use of such materials wastes time and opportunity to train employees in how to conduct business ethically and improve company culture.



The rigid nature of e-learning can be eliminated if companies seek out e-learning modules that use a design process that breaks down the training into sections. There are three hallmarks of a good e-learning programme: statement of intention, introductions and simple language.

First, modules should begin with a statement of intention which clearly explains the reasons for the training and how it will help the user meet compliance requirements. These statements should be tailored to the specific business unit that is using the programme and should clearly present the benefits that attentive use of the module will provide. Without a statement of intent employees will think that use of the e-learning module – and compliance training in general – is just another unimportant company formality and a form of “corporate red tape” which restricts them from doing business effectively. Second, e-learning solutions should contain short introductions to each topic to help employees compartmentalise the information they are about to be exposed to. Third, and perhaps most important, e-learning solutions should use a blend of formal and simple language: formal language extracts from the code of conduct and other company policies interspersed with simple, easy-to-understand summaries of relevant policies and laws. The combination of these techniques as part of a better design process will make e-learning solutions easier to use and show employees that the company is serious about helping them make ethical decisions in difficult circumstances.


Problem 2: Using off-the-shelf training materials

The second major problem with e-learning modules in compliance programmes is that they are not customised to company type and the specific units within each company. Instead, these modules seem like assembly-line produced, off-the-shelf products that the company purchased or developed without considering the users. As a result, sales units are be forced to use e-learning solutions that do not provide them with adequate information and examples regarding gift-giving, commission payments and other risks sales teams often face, and the accounting department receives modules that do not stress the importance of FCPA accounting provisions and how to implement accounting controls, for example.



Companies considering the use of e-learning modules should seek out providers that offer bespoke products for the various employee groups within each enterprise. Further to that, companies should request e-learning products that requires management to take part in the training themselves and to help employees with training. E-learning solutions that force management to participate in training will help employees learn the concepts more effectively and show them that they have someone who is knowledgeable to offer guidance in situations where compliance issues must be remediated and escalated.

E-learning solutions should also contain stories that illustrate the concepts, with situations and characters that specific units can relate to. Stories tailored in such a way will remind employees that the training was developed just for them, and that the company has gone to these lengths because it is genuinely interested in its employees’ growth and development.


Problem 3: Uninteresting modules that imply the content is not important

The third reason why current e-learning solutions make compliance training an unenjoyable endeavour is that modules are not interactive. These modules often present information by “droning”: conveying information in the same rhythm and fashion for minutes on end. Not only does droning make compliance training boring, it gives employees the impression that the topic must be unimportant. If the topic was actually essential, the company would have taken the extra time to break the information down into interactive segments which the employees could actively participate in and learn from.



There are several ways to find out if an e-learning solution contains interactive components. Typical interactive tools include question-and-answer modules, “dilemmas”, and a “can and can’t do” list. Question-and-answer modules should be provided after a particular segment or topic has concluded to give employees a chance to test their retention. A typical question-and-answer segment will contain a question regarding the material and request the employee to answer the question based on the information. Dilemmas are short stories provided throughout a presentation, depicting an employee who must make a critical decision in ethically-challenging circumstances. The dilemma can ask employees to discuss with their co-workers how they would handle the situation, and a trainer or manager should listen to employee answers and provide feedback. Can and can’t do lists are simple lists providing employees with information about what they can and cannot do to ensure compliance with relevant rules and regulations. These lists should be printable so that employees can keep them at their desks or take them when they travel for business. An example of a typical can and can’t do list is a gifts, travel and entertainment chart indicating situations where certain benefits can and cannot be exchanged, and what to do if a benefit seems like it does not conform with company policy. Finally, an interactive e-learning solution will contain an assessment to test employees’ knowledge. Typically, assessments are in the form of a quiz at the end of the e-learning presentation; however, assessments should be accessible at any part of the training so that employees can test their knowledge if they feel they are capable. This option gives them some ownership of their compliance training, which is an important hallmark of a mature, well-trained workforce.



Companies have wasted huge amounts of money attempting to supplement their compliance programmes with ineffective e-learning solutions. Compliance officers need to put themselves in the positions of the employees they seek to train and decide what kind of training is most beneficial: modules that read like a law-school textbook, or pragmatic, interactive products that make compliance training interesting. Until then, company personnel around the world will view compliance training as a tedious endeavour, which severely negates the potential for them to embrace a compliance programme and enthusiastically adopt the core values the organisation holds.

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